Winning teal independents backed by $10.2m in political donations

AEC disclosures reveal Atlassian founder Scott Farquhar was the biggest Climate 200 donor, giving $1.5m, followed by Mike Cannon-Brookes

The six successful teal independent candidates were backed by $10.2m of political donations at the last election, according to disclosures released on Monday.

The Australian Electoral Commission disclosures reveal Atlassian founder Scott Farquhar was the biggest donor to the Climate 200 funding body, giving $1.5m, followed by fellow co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes’ climate campaigning entity, Boundless Earth, which gave $1.18m.

Climate 200 has boasted that it helped raise $13m from 11,200 donors, disclosing to the Australian Electoral Commission that it received $8.3m donations above the $14,500 threshold and made $6m in donations.

Climate 200 donated to 23 campaigns, including 11 successful candidates, helping to elect six new independent MPs in previously Liberal-held seats and senator David Pocock.

Those six MPs topped the list for donations received, with Allegra Spender receiving $1.9m, followed by Monique Ryan and Kylea Tink ($1.8m each), Zoe Daniel ($1.7m), Sophie Scamps ($1.6m) and Kate Chaney ($1.3m).

Of those, the Victorian MPs had the most individual donors: 3,762 for Ryan and 1,999 for Daniel. Dai Le, who won the Labor-held seat of Fowler, received just $81,117 from 123 donors.

Labor plans to legislate caps on electoral spending but has been warned by Pocock that any attempt to limit donations should continue to allow funding entities to collect and “pass through” donations to candidates and parties and that these secondary donations should be uncapped.

Climate 200 has said three-quarters of its 11,200 donors gave less than $500, with many larger donors induced to give by matching smaller contributions.

The disclosures reveal a number of donors chose to give large donations to Climate 200 as well as making donations in their own right.

The Climate 200 disclosed $1.2m from share trading firm founder Robert Keldoulis and his company Keldoulis Investments Pty Ltd. Keldoulis Investments also gave $290,000 direct to candidates, with a further $145,000 from Keldoulis.

William Taylor Nominees, a private company directed by venture capital investor, James Taylor, gave $500,000 to Climate 200, $100,000 to Allegra Spender, and $70,000 to Sophie Scamps.

Taylor told Guardian Australia he was motivated by “climate change, the lack of action by [Scott] Morrison and the Liberals, lack of integrity and … an embarrassing treatment of women”.

“I’m in venture capital and I thought this was a really good return on investment,” he said.

On Monday Keldoulis reportedly told the Sydney Morning Herald he intends to continue to support the independents’ political movement, claiming Climate 200 “is showing that people with absolutely no interest in politics because you’re just disillusioned with the whole system, can actually have an impact.”

Keep them Honest, a private company owned by investment managers Fred Woollard and Therese Cochrane, gave $100,000 to Climate 200, and a further $170,000 to candidates including Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink, Zali Steggall and Monique Ryan.

Nicholas Fairfax, a member of the Fairfax family that once owned the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, gave $100,000 to Climate 200, $50,000 to Spender and $20,000 to Tink.

Alex Turnbull, the son of former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, gave $25,000 to Spender – who defeated Liberal incumbent Dave Sharma in Turnbull’s former seat of Wentworth.

The AEC returns reveal that despite the United Australia party spending tens of millions on its national campaign, electing Ralph Babet from Victoria in the Senate, just $72,189 was spent directly on the campaign of former MP Craig Kelly’s unsuccessful bid to retain his seat of Hughes.

Further details on party donations and spending will be released by the AEC in February – including details of Climate 200’s donations to Pocock and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie.

In July the special minister of state, Don Farrell, revealed to Guardian Australia that Labor intends to legislate spending caps in addition to promises to lower the donation disclosure threshold to $1,000 and move to real-time disclosure.

In a submission to the 2022 election inquiry Labor’s national secretary, Paul Erickson, has warned that Australia’s elections are “not fought on a level playing field” because “extremely high-net-worth individuals, groups and networks” can “distort the political conversation” by outspending others.

On Thursday Erickson continued to advocate for both spending and donation caps, but said the latter would be “secondary” and would require “careful consideration”.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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